Unplugged Abroad

Why getting off the internet is the best thing for you. Reflections about being truly disconnected in Cuba and finding more than you lose.

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Cuba is one of the least connected places on the planet. But somehow the people here seem even more connected than anywhere else.

Yes, the internet exists in Cuba, and yes, it’s getting better and faster by leaps and bounds every single day. But it’s a whole process to get online, for sure, and one that is enough to drive you crazy knowing it stands between you and an important email. One that most of the world in this day and age can’t even fathom.

Last week I spent time detailing how to get on the internet in Cuba on our blog, Home to Havana, in hopes of providing a resource to those that want to visit Cuba without completely dropping off the grid.

By the time I got to the end of the article, I realized my greatest recommendation for those visiting Cuba undid the rest of what I’d already written.

You can get on the internet in Cuba…but you shouldn’t. Try not to. It’s part of the beauty of visiting Cuba. You have the excuse to disconnect, and the reason to.

The best times I’ve had in Havana have been when I haven’t connected to the internet for a week on end, and realized I barely “missed” anything while disconnected.

Seeing that the world really does keep spinning despite not responding to a few emails or reading a few news articles is a powerful thing I think we could all use a little more of these days.

While Cubans clamor for the internet, and enjoy its many benefits as it becomes more infused in their daily lives, I see that so many Cubans still see the value in disconnecting.

If anything, it allows for even greater connection.

Let me tell you about one of my favorite people, my husband’s 82-year-old aunt, Carmelina. I’m happy to say that getting to know her over the past few years has helped me come to know and love Cuba even more, and seeing Cuba from her eyes is a pleasure.

She is a perfect example of why true connection often has so little do with wifi and connectivity and bars and data plans.

She has had an incredible life. She has stories about how what it was like to be the first person in her family to go to college, about moving across the island as a young, unmarried woman in a time when that was a pretty scandalous thing to do, just so she could keep studying. She’ll tell you about building hospitals in Havana after the Cuban Revolution and meeting Fidel personally. “He was so tall!”

She has never owned a phone – not just a cell phone, but ANY type of phone, at all. She has a radio that she listens to before bed, and a television made by the USSR. To call her we have to wait until she visits her neighbor’s house, normally just in time for coffee.

She is somehow so connected – to people, to information, to her neighbors and friends. She knows EVERY SINGLE PERSON in her neighborhood.

She knows their kids, she drops in for visits, she brings them food or coffee or conversation. She knows more about her friends and neighbors in her building and on her block that I know about the hundreds of Facebook “friends” I’ve made over the years and followers I’ve gained on Instagram.

I’ve never seen someone sip their coffee and look out over the city that unbothered, that peaceful – free from to-do lists a mile long, totally fulfilled in life and totally free from the demands that modern connectedness place on us.

Turn off your phone and computer after you finish reading this. Unplug your wifi router and turn off your TV for an entire day. Wave at your neighbor and strike up a conversation.

As crazy as it may seem, the world won’t be any different because of it.

You might be.  

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